A terrifying fall inspires renewed conviction in
the real value of human life.
Varahavana Asrama, Western Ghats, South India
Late monsoon season, 1996
IT WAS A DIM AND WET morning. I could make out the silhouettes of dark, heavy monsoon clouds as they moved slowly across the mountain tops, the rocky outcrops occasionally tearing off tendrils of wispy white cloud that quickly vanished as they brushed against the treetops below.
I was all set for a long drive to Bangalore. It was a Thursday, and I was a bit apprehensive, because Vedic literature tells us that Thursday is an inauspicious day for travel. But my computer had been giving me problems, I really needed it fixed, and this was the only practical time to get it done. Besides, hadn't I traveled on many Thursdays before without problem?
As I made my way to the jeep along the rain-soaked path through the trees, I wondered if I really should bring the whole computer. If the jeep broke down on a barren stretch of jungle road, I'd have to leave the computer unprotected. But it was too late now; I was committed to leaving, so I brushed the thought aside.
As the morning light broke through, I drove the jeep up the steep wooded hillside and onto the road. Our farm is deep in the forest, about five miles from the nearest town. In this region there are only small pothole-filled roads, and the driving is difficult.
After about two hours I reached the hilly Western Ghat section, an area of deep forest. The road climbs steeply alongside a wide rushing river known as the Kempu Nadi, or "Red River." The road runs from the coastal plane of Karnataka up through the Western Ghats, until at three thousand feet it reaches South India's Central Deccan Plateau.
By this time the sky was mostly clear, and the sun was shining brightly. The road was wide, and with little traffic the drive was pleasant. The route is one of the most beautiful drives I know of anywhere in the world, and I was feeling happy. The jeep was responding nicely as I climbed a few tight bends.
The sun was low and at certain places tended to dazzle me. As I rounded one particularly steep turn crash! the jeep hit a deep pothole. I was shaken. I slowed down and checked the steering and brakes. Everything seemed OK. I decided not to stop, and drove on as normal.
After another ten minutes or so I started to look for a convenient place to fill my water bottle from one of the many waterfalls. I couldn't find a really good spot, so I decided to pull over at a small trickle falling from a nearby cliff. As I filled my bottle, I noticed a few rust spots on the jeep and made a mental note to get an estimate for a re-spray.
The day was becoming really beautiful. The sun was shining strongly, the air was cool and fragrant from all the forest trees, and everything glistened from the recent rainfall. After months of clouds and heavy monsoon rain, the sunshine was a welcome harbinger of a glorious autumn season.
I got back in the jeep and pressed on. Six more hours of driving to go, and I wanted to reach Bangalore for a late lunch.
The End of a Carefree Drive
The drive was great. I really felt fortunate to be living in this part of the world. Growing up in London, I had always wanted to be an explorer, and now I had a great job looking after a 100-acre plantation deep in the wildlife-filled jungles of one of the world's last virgin rainforests. As I drove, various thoughts streamed by life was good. Something amusing came to me, and it made me chuckle quietly to myself.
Then the nightmare began.
The road curved slightly to the left. I was traveling about 65 kph. As I approached the bend, something seemed wrong. I couldn't understand what was happening, whether I or the jeep wasn't responding, but somehow the jeep was crossing to the other side of the road. I tried to brake and turn the wheel, but before I knew it the jeep was on the wrong side of the road.
Just then, through a clearing in the trees on the right, I saw the river below. A small tributary flowed through a culvert under the road and then crashed down eighty feet or so into the main river. I realized that I was about to plunge over the culvert and down into the torrent below. At the edge of the road above the culvert was a low wall, about fifteen inches high, and I was heading straight for it, head on.
In recent years I had consulted a number of astrologers. Most of them said I would have a long life. I had often thought I wasn't one of those people who suppose, "It won't happen to me." I had realized that there was no reason to think I was something special, and that there was just as much chance of me being killed prematurely as anyone else. But at the same time, the reassurance of the astrologers, and the fact that I was a practicing Krsna devotee, had somehow lulled me into a false sense of security. Suddenly, all this was being shattered.
I was about to die.
There was no way I was going to survive that drop. Trees lined the bank, the drop was almost sheer, and the river was raging. In the last second before hitting the culvert wall, I had a terrible sense of being let down those damned astrologers were wrong! I was facing the greatest tragedy of all: death had arrived.
Crash! This time it was for real. The windshield exploded, the jeep hurtled over the edge, I had a sickening feeling of falling through space. Nnnnoooo! It was no use trying to do anything. Sometimes people think, "Well, if this happens to me I'll try to jump out of the jeep and save myself." Or I will do this or that. But when material nature takes over, there's nothing you can do. I suddenly realized I was helpless.
Death had come. It was real. No more time.
I found myself floating in the middle of the jeep as it plummeted upside down into the gorge, my face inches from the canvas top. When would it come? When would I be smashed against the rocks? When would my body be sliced to pieces in a tangled wreck of twisted steel?
There was nothing else to do. Only one person could help me now. Without thinking I just cried out, "Krsnaaaa! Krsnaaaa! Krsnaaaa!" It was automatic, a natural cry for our eternal father. Years of chanting had paid off. I remembered to call for Krsna.
I don't know exactly how I fell. I can't remember how I got the injuries. All I know is that there was a severe jolt, and suddenly I was down at the bottom of the bank careening headlong into the water.
And just as suddenly as the fall had started, the jeep slammed to a violent halt.
Water rushed by on all sides, its roar ringing in my ears. Blood poured from my head. My heart pounded. I was in shock, but I was alive.
I scrambled out of the jeep. Luckily the water was only a foot deep. I searched for a piece of glass or mirror to see the extent of my injuries. I tried to stay calm and rational, but I knew I had to get out of there quickly. I could have had severe internal bleeding and might pass out at any time.
The gashes above one eye and on the side of my head looked ugly but at least I still had a head. I checked my legs: a deep tear in my left knee, a puncture wound in the back of my right ankle. Not too bad. I found some clean cloth in the back of the jeep and bound my injuries as best I could. It didn't look too bad, but I was far from safe.
I looked in the back of the jeep. I couldn't believe it the computer and monitor were still in their boxes. My briefcase was still in the front. I waded to the back of the jeep and saw my steel trunk upright on the river bank, though most of the contents (and the bag with my CD player) were under a few inches of rushing water.
The road was at least sixty or seventy feet up a steep, slippery bank. What was I to do? If I just left the jeep, everything was bound to get stolen. It seemed that no one had seen the crash, but I would have to get help, and the jeep would certainly be seen. I thought of hiding the computer Krsna's computer in the thick foliage nearby, but the ground was too slippery, and I was in a lot of pain.
The Long Trip Up
The most important thing was to get help. I grabbed my briefcase and some other valuables and started slowly climbing the bank. I couldn't bend my left knee, so it was difficult. Thick brambles and fallen trees lined the path. I almost felt like giving up, but I pushed on, and after around twenty minutes I managed to haul myself onto the road.
It was deserted. No one in sight. Blood oozed down the side of my face, and sometimes it would drip into my eye and obscure my vision. Thirsty, I staggered over to a stream to drink.
I saw a car approaching, so I waved my arms frantically. The car slowed, and then sped on. This happened five or six times, and I began to despair. Then at last a jeep stopped. None of the people in it spoke English, and I didn't speak Kannada. They looked over the edge down at the jeep, and looked at me in disbelief.
Just then another car stopped, and the man spoke English. I asked him to help me retrieve the things from the jeep, and before I knew it he had four or five men scrambling down the steep bank. By this time many cars were stopping, and a crowd was gathering. I stood at the top of the culvert and shouted directions through my interpreter to the men carrying up my things.
Eventually my possessions started to pile up around me. One man made his way over to me and started to examine my injuries. Concerned, he offered to take me to the nearest town, a two-hour drive up the Ghat. I wanted to get my equipment out of there, and he assured me that he would take care of everything. Somehow I felt I could trust him. I was starting to feel weak, and my vision was starting to fragment. He and a few others carried me to his car and let me lie on the back seat, while they loaded my things into the back. At last everything was loaded, and we drove off. I was somewhat relieved; I was alive, my things were all accounted for, and we were on our way.
A New Life
The man was a Hindu, and I started to tell him about the accident. I told him that when I realized I might die I just cried out for Krsna. He smiled and said, "Krsna has saved you. You have a new life now."
We stopped for about half an hour at a small medical center, where I was given a rudimentary examination and many painful stitches. The doctor thought that there were no internal injuries and that I could proceed. We continued on to Bangalore.
A few days later, when I visited the local police station to check on the jeep recovery, I was greeted by the police team who had just returned from the crash site. When they realized that it was I who had been in the jeep, the chief inspector raised his hands in the air and said over and over, "God is great! Krsna is great! Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!"
He was amazed to see me not only alive but standing on my own two feet, with little apparent damage. Later the police told me that the previous year a car had gone over at the same spot and both passengers had been killed. It was rumored that a Brahma Raksasa (a dangerous ghostlike demon) haunted the spot. These spirits wait for lonely travelers and try to enter their bodies. They choose an opportune moment and paralyze the victim or throw him over a steep edge or in into a river. I had heard of such things before but had never experienced anything like it. Even now I cannot be sure if what happened was due to mechanical failure or something far more sinister.
About a week afterwards I was recovering well, and I decided to set up the computer, which was all dried out by now. It worked perfectly.
Before the crash I had been casual about my spiritual life. Sure, I was a practicing Krsna devotee, but I had become complacent. It had gotten so bad that I had started to belittle the pious habits of more serious devotees as being simply sentimental nonsense. I had become a little irreverent and was treading a dangerous path of criticism. Although I was expert at finding the faults in others, I was not prepared to see my own shortcomings.
For one who has learned the path of right action, to stray from that path is highly dangerous. I believe that Krsna saw that tendency in me. Not long before the crash, in a moment of introspection, I had chided myself for having a poor attitude. I feared that if I did not change I might have to face a severe test. I had hoped that it might not be too severe.
It seems funny to say it, but I'm glad I had that crash. It has made me realize the true value and importance of human life. Just when we think everything is perfect, the material world can take us and smash us to pieces. This world is not a safe place. Better to give it up once and for all and go back home to Krsna.
Samba Dasa, a disciple of Sripada Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, joined ISKCON in England in 1976. He now serves as the project manager for the Sri Mayapur master plan office.